BILLS OF LADING (3rd edition)
Sir Richard Aikens, Richard Lord QC, Michael Bools QC, Michael Bolding and Kian Sing Toh SC; special contributor Professor Miriam Goldby. Informa Law from Routledge, Abingdon (2021) lxxxiii and 610 pp, plus 46 pp Index. Hardback £425.
DEBATTISTA ON BILLS OF LADING IN COMMODITIES TRADE (4th edition)
Charles Debattista and Francis Hornyold-Strickland. Bloomsbury Professional, London (2021) xxx and 274 pp, plus 50 pp Appendices and 23 pp Index. Hardback £295.
Given that maritime law is largely concerned with international commercial activities and that the most familiar and important instrument used in international trade is the bill of lading, it is no surprise that there are several books on the subject or that they deal with it in different ways. Fortunately, the rival books complement each other.
Modern scholarship on carriage of goods by sea has to a significant extent been stimulated by the Law of International Trade course introduced at the end of the 1960s at Oxford by Guenter Treitel, Francis Reynolds and others. This has produced a large number of academics and practitioners who have been active in the area and stimulated the development of the subject generally; and similar courses have been taught in other universities. Two initial questions with such courses are exactly what they should comprise and what they should be called. The pivotal subject matter is the bill of lading; but many such courses combine related components: they concern international sales, are commonly financed by bankers’ letters of credit, and are performed through carriage of goods by sea, often involving charterparties.
The conundrums are evident in the title to the book by Charles Debattista (now co-authored by Francis Hornyold-Strickland). It began life as Sale of Goods Carried by Sea
, changed to Bills of Lading in Export Trade
and is now Bills of Lading in Commodities Trade
. The change of emphasis better indicates what it is about, though it overlooks the fact that a particular feature of the book is the lead author’s particular expertise with Incoterms, terms which are commonly used in international trade, though often without overt expression. Apart from the further change of name, it is reassuring that the book continues to provide an introduction to the subject which is clear and, to a certain extent, simple, though not simplistic. For example, it was argued in Sevylor Shipping & Trading Corp v Atfadul Co for Foods, Fruits & Livestock (The Baltic Strait)
 EWHC 629 (Comm);  2 Lloyd’s Rep 33
that the ability of a buyer holding a bill of lading to recover from a shipowner may be reduced by a payment in respect of the relevant loss received from the seller. The argument was rejected by Andrew Baker J and is not mentioned in the new editions of Aikens
, Chitty on Contracts
or McGregor on Damages
. So that may be that. But the authors of Debattista
persist in arguing otherwise. It is for being alert to such different perspectives that one consults different books.
Aikens (if one may so call a book with several authors) continues steadily to grow, most noticeably with an expanded team of authors, including one with expertise in the law of Singapore, which is steadily contributing to the flow of bill of lading cases. It has also expanded the broader international trade context of its subject with a new chapter on bills of lading and documentary credits. It is often a difficult question where to draw the line between the core subject matter of a book and related areas, and it would have been inappropriate for extensive coverage of documentary credits, but bills of lading are commonly “processed” through the banking system, so the new chapter outlines the main issues that arise. Also helpful is the discussion of the switch bill of lading, a variant that had tended to be treated incidentally by the books as simply an example of the traditional document but the use of which has been described as “fraught with danger” and is a practice that is liable to be thrown into disarray if subjected to sustained judicial analysis. Finally, the team has made use of the expertise on electronic documents of Miriam Goldby of Queen Mary University of London. As usual, practice is ahead of the law and the literature on the use of shipping transport documents in the digital world and, because of that, the law on the issues arising cannot be stated with confidence. It is nonetheless useful for them to be outlined, as we look forward to the proposals on the future of electronic trade documents awaiting imminent publication by the Law Commission.